Mozjoukine

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Shao nian Ba bi lun
(2015)

Ambitious mainland film.
Handsomely executed and surprisingly critical Chinese film lacks traction where characters and development are indistinct to an outsider.

In Northern China in the early '90s. Dong Zijian (Ash Is the Purest White) the young lead completes high school, seeing the lid blow off a tank at local heavy industry plant, Dai City Tangjing chemical processing, with a worker carried along on it a comic surreal episode out of character with the rest of the film.

The boy's choice is sell cigarettes on the street or follow his father into the forbidding factory. There he finds himself in the crew of Shang Tielong a long time fitter who understands the factory community and Lu joins in the grim work and leisure activities.

He gets his first kiss roughly from the fat factory girl (what happens to her?) and competes with the white collar worker for the attention of appealing plant doctor Li Meng (Touch of Sin) in whose sick bay he stretches out in the pregnancy delivery stirrups. Lu's offer to bring down the suicidal girl worker from the tank scaffolding gets applause but the rival is able to talk her down without the risk. The two men become involved in a weird competition to see who can stay the longest in the communal baths with the heat all the way up.

Surprisingly the lady doctor comes around, in a (tame) make out session in an earthquake. Lu is persuaded to take night school and the girl finds herself at odds with indifferent management and leaves for Shanghai.

All this is nicely filmed in wide screen but often becomes incoherent, at least to an outsider. A few scenes are shot in monochrome for no obvious reason.

More intriguing than the plot is the picture of the joyless dead end employment in the shadow of the piled up coal, cooling towers, grim factory floors and rail tracks we see the late comer bicycle past, unmistakably an early condemnation of the county's fossil fuel industries, placing it along side Blind Shaft and Thin Ice Black Coal.

Yu shi shang tong ju
(2011)

Glossy but under scripted Beijing lightweight.
A film about the (2011) Chinese fashion industry is bound to have curiosity value at least - well no actually. There's one runway show that we don't get a good look at and magazine spreads that we never see are constantly being prepared. What we do get is a formulaic plot with a detour via JERRY MAGUIRE.

Vic Chou is a star of the Beijing fashion magazine industry (we suppose they do have one) Designers fawn over him and they are going to send him to Milan this year. This is a bit much for his boss, veteran Alan Tam (ARMOR OF GOD) who fires him on a whim. Chou storms out asking his associates to join him in a new venture but only boyish cute Vivian Hsu will be in it.

He recruits a new team from under used workers and competes, losing to Tam until the inevitable up swing - dancing in the street follows.

There's one quite accomplished urban luxury montage early on, the selection of filming locales is often striking and the leads are a good looking couple who suggest potential that the film fails to use. For the rest the determined glossiness is just for show, not connected to any story elements.

Assistant Wives
(1927)

Top silent two reeler.
Clever & funny Silent comedy short.

Charley is in boss Pallette's office sitting in the chair ( cf. Cantinflas in El MAGO) and running through A list of demands not knowing Eugene has come in.

The upshot is Pallette invited for diner with the woman from the flapjack joint opposite the office rung in for Charley's wife.

Drab staging but the combination of Roach, Chase and McCarey produce an item in the top of the range for silent comedy shorts.

Fool's Paradise
(1921)

Vintage De Mille - that's entertainment.
While Cecil B. De Mille could be ponderous and simple minded - think the first 10 COMMANDMENTS or THE PLAINSMAN - he occasionally had the knack of adding enough self mockery into his work to make it fly. I though it was the contribution of the writers on THE CRUSADES and UNION PACIFIC but here we get it in a 1921 movie with an obsessive poet whose tribute gives the woman he idolises the giggles, a floozie whose attempts to go Florence Nightingale have her send for a cook book and a star dancer whose presentation is as ridiculous as her admirer's poems.

Put them in oil rush El Paso and equally art directed Bali and provide a plot that Chaplin would re-cycle in CITY LIGHTS. What's not to love.

We get the swarming crowd scenes that De Mille featured (was he working with Richard Rosson yet?) and some remarkable effects work along the way.

Conrad Nagel gives a career best performance, doing his part with absolute seriousness which plays off the film's excesses. What's missing? Well another great score by Neil Brand which also tells us we'll have a better time if we don't laugh. It shapes the presentation impeccably.

Der Tiger von Eschnapur
(1938)

Trash movie classic
The succeeding versions of The TIGER VON ESCHNAPUR are milestones in the development of movies. This is the middle one, following the silent Joe May got away from Fritz Lang which fitted into the Line of CALIGARI and METROPOLIS and preceding Lang's entry in the Eurotrash cycle of the sixties. It was a major hit for the Third Reich film industry and one of their most ambitious undertakings. It's pretty hard to look at it without remembering the politics.

This 1938 version is lifted by extensive location filming - snapping crocodiles, Maharadscha Philip Dorn / Frits van Dongen and so blonde Kitty Jantzen riding in the triumphal parade, locals pelting the cage of the captured killer tiger, two elephants battling it out as an entertainment.

The drama that this is slotted into, played by blacked up Europeans, is another matter. Dorn understandably takes a dim view of Russian intruder Gustav Diessel making off with so gorgeous Maharani La Jana and once the couple become fugitives in Europe he mounts murderous revenge.

Unaware of this, German architect Hans Stüwe is commissioned to build a new city - waving of blue prints and one shot of workers pounding earth by hand). Think Chandigarh. The work includes a tomb for the still living La J.

Throw in Theo Lingren's comic relief, La Jana's splendid hoochy coochy dancing and lots of extras in turbans in elaborate studio decors and you have the Maria Montez formula which will flourish in Hollywood post WW2

The dance numbers are highlights of all three versions. The theater fire which ends part one coming on top of La Jana's Indira routine is a hard act to follow and while the production values persist part two is a bit on the scrappy side.

This chaotic exotic-erotic adventure movie gives anything in it's area a run for the money. You watch it with a mix of sit back and enjoy it pleasure and unease about the underlying attitudes.

Kobanzame zenpen
(1948)

Ambitious WW2 era Samurai movie.
Remarkable film for Japan in 1941 - or by any standard. The panoramas of armed men marching in the distance must have called for immense man power at a time when this was hard to come by. Not easy to see why this was a war time priority when it's picture of the military is far from attractive.

The peasants gather in the studio village street uncertain about what is happening till a lone horseman rides through. "What war?" Pan down a cliff reveals the lines of moving warriors. There is a spy about so the wagon crew are suspicious of Yamada when she shows up alone. "Hyachi found a beaurty."

The span broadens with the with attention switching between the group of workers and the rival lords strategising on maps, where the black markers indicating dead soldiers had been spread.

Their lord stirs the admiration of his men by not attacking while sickness strikes his opponents.

With his Ninja hiding among lily pads to get intelligence one leader plans a secret move by night with his opposite number determined to out manoeuvre him.

The actual battle in part two is an anticlimax after this material, unclear and finally a disappointment.

Frequent great panoramas - the shot that opens out to show lines of warriors crossing roads ranged to the horizon, the tracking shot past ranks of warriors holding their spears at attention as their instructions are given, troops passing through the trees behind the main action their samurai banners lowered. The images of half naked men advancing through the forest trees anticipate Rashomon. It sustains it's two hours.

The 1561 battle is celebrated in Japanese culture (and numerous films including Kagemusha with the shadow warrior on his stool glimpsed towards the end as hostilities overtake him) What we see builds impressively. Apparently both sides claimed to have won in real life.

Pity the battle when it comes is so tame and small scale after the great set up. The film shapes up for being outstanding without getting there. It still remains evidence that Kinugasa is grossly under valued in English language criticism.

Fräulein Raffke
(1923)

Unremarkable German silent.
We always hope that the unfamiliar titles spacing out the filmographies of people we admire will prove to be masterpieces. Well this one has Werner Krauss going all out as a business Czar with a desk full of telephones and Hans Albers coming out of it rather better as a seedy monocle wearing aristocrat who sees Krauss' fortune as the pot of gold while the millionaire thinks wedding of his daughter Lee Parry (Mrs Eichberg) to Albers will give him entry to the nobility.

The opening gives it a chance - lines of flunkies, bathing beauties, a palais de danse and lots of acting from Krauss continually adjusting his comb over. However this soon gives way to a "never darken my door" weepy.

Parry suffers in a variety of outsize hats and the plot fails to provide any surprises. Quite ambitious with big none too imaginative sets and hoards of extras, this one has community with the contemporary melodramas of Michael Curtiz and Cecil B. De Mille - there's even a Golden Calf ball but, at this length, it's not as much fun.

Sword of Honour
(1939)

Describing a working class cadet at Sandhust raises themes and issues in Elvey films.
Maurice Elvey salutes the flag - literally. The Union Jack is forever being run up and fluttering in the breeze.

Plot has third generation soldier Geoffrey Toone leaving the home of grandfather Gordon Begg, proud of being at Mafeking and dad Wally Patch who is amazed to be at the station sending his son off for officer training, as Geof takes the train for Berkshire and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

Of course our hero aces all the training but he has a flaw. He won't join the riding exercises. They all think it's funk.

Conviction is already strained and doesn't get better when things are elaborated with the romantic sub plot where he's out biking and finds glamorous Sally Gray in the mud, thrown by her horse. To stop the animal's rich new owner shooting it Geof undertakes to train it for the Grand National, while he's still doing Sando.

The officers spot him being brought back in the rich man's car and don't elevate him despite his good grades. "A boy can't expect a Rolls Royce, the Grand National and a promotion, all in one term."

Toone needs an act of heroism to get the his sword of honor

The film is an implausible promo for the British way with WW2 approaching. A working class boy gets to achieve among the striped blazer titled heirs and comic toffs - cf. ENGLISH WITHOUT TEARS and later The GUINEA PIG. It has all the British scene elements of Elvey's films - the pubs, the hunt pack, traditional music, military rituals.

They keep on hammering the new democracy, as with soldier Gramps palling with the Major General who led the relief of Mafeking, coming across as propaganda content. Still it does hold attention, propped up by OK cast and production values.

Father's Close Shave
(1920)

Part of a series of Jiggs & Maggie two reeler.
This soso adaptation of the newspaper strip cartoon, directed by a writer on HANDS Up and A GIRL IN EVERY PORT, builds to a chase - the barber after a customer etc. It made the cut in a series on silent comedy mounted at Pordenone in 2016.

Early Laura La Plante.

I figli di nessuno
(1974)

Cut price historical weepy.
The much re-made costume melo about the poor girl pregnant to the heir, who is sent away unaware that his evil mother Contessa Blanc has packed the girl into a nunnery and made off with the child.

The boy grows up, heroically of course.

The low budget shows but Blanc & Tinti are striking leads. The crisp, deep focus, low contrast photography is also arresting, costume and period setting are good and the film occasionally achieves the serious movie feel of films like TREE of WOODEN CLOGS and PADRE PADRONE.

Savina's score is uncharacteristically solemn and without the Morricone sound here.

Mocny czlowiek
(1929)

Grim Polish Classic.
Surviving only as a dreadful high contrast print, this Polish silent is quite polished technically but the characters are uninvolving and the story grim.

Writer Chmara (Robetrt Wiene's Jesus) has dreams of glory ("Fama" superimposed on the newspaper pages) leading him to tell his dying author friend Artur Socha that his MSS, which he reads him, is mediocre.

The piece is published under Chmara's name (montage of whirring presses) leading to great success and an affair with an old associate's wife.

When the book is staged with a cubist mask protagnist and a chorus of girls with faces on the back of their heads, Chmara confesses at his curtain call. No one seems all that interested.

Clearly intended as a work of high art, this antique isn't equal to its pretensions.

Hanayome no negoto
(1933)

Still basic Japanese Talkie
Gosho, later to make major films like 4 CHIMNEYS and AN INN AT OSAKA, is still feeling his way with Sound Film.

In a neighborhood bar, there's a gathering of five students of whom only Kobayashi has graduated and married. When he leaves and one goes off to see his dancer friend, the remaining trio determine to invade the husband's new home and see if the stories are true that the wife, Tanaka no less, talks in her sleep.

The arrival of a partying neighbor and finally a burglar don't produce any excitement.

Unadventurous staging - the bulk of the action takes place in two small decors, We only go out of doors for the shots of entering or leaving the premises and a few glimpses of a model one car train, distant at night. Not much as plots go and no one gets a chance to make an impression. The picture of thirties urban Japan still occasionally intrigues.

The slightness and constricted settings irritate at first but they become the piece's back bone as it progresses.

Pobednyy marshrut
(1939)

Basic Soviet 30s Animation.
Simple minded and not a little disturbing, this one has simple, bold draftsmanship - B&W tapering perspective & outlines - in its favour as well as curiosity value as a rare accessible example of Ruskie thirties animation.

The Bolshevik party is shown as a speeding locomotive representing the 5 year plans and running down skeptics in evening dress, saboteurs & Kulacks (the last Capitalists) with the model of Alexei Stakhanov who mined 103 tons - fourteen times his work quota - and there's a song about Stalin.

Good opener for a showing of the Wadja MAN OF IRON.

Singapore Woman
(1941)

Energetic B feature made from Warner left overs.
Brenda Marshall in the part that Bette Davis got an Oscar for - aw c'mon fellers!

The art department wheel out the tropical foliage they are used to rigging, and the verandah from THE LETTER. However despite occasional bursts of production value like the opening dockside activity, the seedy Crows Nest bar brawl or a dozen extras tin mining, most of the film is Miss Marshal in awful Damon Giffard outfits emoting about the jinx that makes her destroy the lives of the men in the support cast. She gets to smash her mirror reflection with a liquor bottle too.

Negulesco on his first feature is trying but he's got a long way to go to the excellence of JOHNNY BELINDA and HUMORESQUE. Featured players are a drab lot with the good people making fleeting appearances - Tony Warde, Ian Wolfe and (you have to be quick) Alexis Smith.

Fior di male
(1915)

WW1 Era Diva Melo
These soapy melodramas don't survive the years all that well. In this one the then famous Lyda Borelli suffers nobly for an hour plus, always finding a way to face the camera when she expresses emotion. She also gets a wide range of wardrobe changes. In fact the costumes and furnishings are the most interesting aspects of this antique.

La Borelli is lead astray, has her child taken away and escapes the reformatory to be adopted by a kindly nobleman and rise in the world of fashion. Her protegé Cecyl Tryan marries a famous musician and in protecting her Lyda is struck down.

The playing is not ludicrous but the sensibility, which Gallone would retain over decades, fails to invest all this suspect good taste with conviction.

A Wife of the Hills
(1912)

Non Broncho Billy role for Anderson.
More sober and realistic than most of G. M. Anderson's pioneer Broncho Billy westerns, with Anderson quite effective in a character part.

The plot runs to betrayal and revenge. Shaw, a member of Anderson's outlaw band involved with the chief's wife gives himself up and Anderson breaks jail and hits the vengeance trail.

The sure hand of the Broncho Billys is evident here. These were among the best films of their day.

An adequate copy survives.

Giftgas
(1929)

Uncharacteristic late German silent.
Free of all the "Expressionist" cinema trappings this one brings an A feature cast to a regrettably predictable plot - evil Capitalists turn idealistic Chemist Stüwe's formula into a weapon of mass destruction. Handling, by a director who would serve out his time in Russia, fields Kortner and Abel, two of the greats of the German entertainment scene, opposite Baranovskaya star of Pudovkin's MAT/MOTHER. Her scenes are the best in the film.

There's a distinct change from the near realistic handling of the body of the production to a crazy montage finale which seems to have picked up a lot of the Gance J'ACUSE.

Surviving copy is dire - soft, goes out of rack, dupey.

Still an intriguing record of major talents trying for significance.

Fellow Americans
(1942)

War Time One Reeler.
A companion piece to The Kanin- Wheeler RING OF STEEL. That one was narrated by Spencer Tracy and here the chore is done by James Stewart who, like him, excels. Actuality nicely cut together and driven by the voice work is on screen just long enough to make it's point about the American values WW2 is supposed to be about.

The craft skills out last the context.

A Pair of Sexes
(1921)

Elaborate short comedy.
Elaborate Christie comedy short where the lead gets "a great surprise" telegram from his wife & rushes back to find she's moved into the apartment over the corridor. The family in the old flat has had twins which he took to be his and carried off to parade at the office.

His First Command
(1929)

Tame early sound romcom.
Interesting credits and it's twenties sound film origins work up some anticipation for this one and the the film seems to be setting up some kind of service comedy but just runs on to a lame conclusion.

Hoppy is a celebrated playboy whose exploits with chorus girls the papers follow. His dad is big in rubber. He encounters Sebastian (Mrs. Boyd) when her hunt pack mount pulls up.

Boyd meets her father, camp commander Col. Alphonse Ethier and resolves to join the army to win Sebastian.

Unfunny comic scenes follow - Boyd casually presuming on his acquaintance with Ethier and being set to salute a post represented as General Pershing a hundred times by Sgt. Hurst, a group of recruits deciding that the they are all there because of woman trouble (cf. Nie weider liebe), cleaning stables and Boyd falling in the water hazard when his horse balks.

We are getting on for an hour now, so we have the wind up, an (undercranked) Overland Cavalary Race with horsemen pouring across the countryside and young Helen Parrish falling in their path. Bill rescues her, leading to a half baked happy ending

Largely played in unedited wide shots occasionally butted onto one another, this just about hold attentions though it has no real impact as comedy, romance or action movie.

Hard to relate it to La Cava's best work beyond a certain lightness of touch.

Zigeunerbaron
(1935)

Superior operetta film.
Remarkable Strauss musical - crowds of extras, big decors, imaginative coverage. Walbrook is in full form, leaping on tables, snatching the rich heavy's whip and smashing the beer stein on the table. After the treasure is found, it looks like he'll pair with the rich blonde horse riding daughter who's been slapping and humiliating him but that wouldn't fit with the Viennese style.

The numbers are great though some like "Open Road Open Sky" are on the short side.

Among the best examples of its tradition and the work of director Hartl.

Le manoir de la peur
(1927)

Derivative French Silent would be Shocker.
This one starts off like a silent French rural drama, shifts into a CALIGARI rip-off and ends up like a cut price LA ROUE. Alfred Machin and Henry Wulschleger only occasionally hit the right scary note or vaguely anti lynch mob message that they strive for. Their actors from Abel Gance movies (Romuald Joubé was the lead in J'ACUSE) are an unimpressive lot and the mix of remote provincial village actuality and studio decors is uneasy.

The good new is that it survives in a beautiful tinted restoration which runs near the right speed and has an original score. It's hard enough to see anything French from this period, I guess we shouldn't impose unreal standards of quality.

Trois thèmes
(1980)

minor Alexeiff
Minor Alexeiff short in black and white - three minimally animated sketches - the black bull superimposed on trees, panels with moving figures panned past and images of coins on a table developping to a mystic pyramid. Timed to music by Modest Mussorgsky.

The imagery gets attention.

The Cradle of Courage
(1920)

William S. Hart out of character.
Not without interest though this is one of the lesser Hart films. Turn William S. Hart into a city cop, a cloth cap workman or Aztec Indian, and he loses his legendary westerner impact.

Troops, "men who had faced Boche steel" are disembarking at San Francisco after WW1 and among them is Hart as Sgt. Square Kelly of the 91st, one time burglar, and his officer friend who happens to be the son of the Police Lieutenant who had encountered our hero in his professional capacity.

Switch is Bill's white hair mother happens to be a cop hating Irish criminal matriarch who is all set for him to re-join Tom Santchi's gang. However the Lieutenant offers Bill a spot on the force. Santschi's ward Anne Little (co-star with Broncho Billy Anderson) slips him a note urging the straight and narrow.

When the tension between Hart's up bringing and his new righteous way of life has been settled, it's kind of lame. Instead of an Old Testament God, it's the hallowed US Army that stirs Bill's reverence here.

The Bay City setting is an effective background, also used in Hart's THE NARROW TRAIL but Lambert Hillyer's script and direction don't make this one of his star's best efforts. Cameraman Joe August, on the other hand, covers himself with glory, capturing Hart in the streetscapes and filming the shoot out in the dark room illuminated by muzzle flashes - is this the first time we see that? It turns up again again in George Bancroft's superior The MIGHTY ten years later, which this film intriguingly anticipates.

The Marriage Bond
(1932)

Antique British programmer.
An unconvincing downer which looks like it's fresh from the West End.

Husband Newall is the disgrace of the hunt club set ("how awful old people look when they're drunk") It's decided that the only solution is for him to move out. Daughter Casson and her playwright spouse plan on making use of the family home, outraging his wife Newcombe.

Florie Desmond as the bar maid floozie alone injects some life into her role.

Twickenham Studios production facilities generally achieve a professional finish even with the odd double shadow or out of focus shot.

One of director Maurice Elvey's worst films.

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